Nature Is

Something large is crashing through the brush in front of me just out of sight. I wait half-expecting it to emerge but, keeping the mystery, snapping, thudding, it never does.

I have been lucky. For a little over a decade I’ve lived on the edge of a vast park, a rarity in a major city. Trees branch over the narrow alley that separates us. In summer frogs sing deafeningly along the rainwater-fed creed that trickles there. In winter, bare trees show how close this wild is to civilization, the roads winding through the small spit of it that reaches my neighborhood.

In addition to the usual urban wildlife, frogs sometimes stray down our sidewalks. Deer raise no eyebrows, except when they stroll down a main street accompanied by a bear, as two did a decade ago. Captured on a building surveillance camera, the unlikely trio made the papers. A wild turkey, of all things, grazes peacefully in the woods, the most gigantic bird I’ve seen outside a zoo since I was a child. Recently rabbits have reappeared, everywhere, while the neighborhood fox, too, has returned after an absence of years. Sidling down the alley just in front of us, he glances at us scornfully, turns tail with a flourish and disappears into the darkness.

These aren’t only nighttime visions, although night is when my mind recognizes, in the most childish way, the most frightening shapes. Muggy evening haze over a dimly lit walkway immediately makes me think of The Exorcist.  Lashes of messily growing vines and weeds covering a blasted-out tree trunk look like a huge, green rotting skull.  Before I can look up from my phone my dog charges something large that leaps away into invisibility. The noises that rise above the chanting of the frogs and the insects make whatever is there, just out of sight, seem terrible and chaotic.

It would be tempting to impose a narrative on this thin nature theatre, to see in the return of these beasts a return to some natural order, to a healing and hope whose metaphor would be so perfect in the unexplained fairy light I saw against the darkness last week, flickering briefly and sweetly… until I remembered it was just a firefly, as lonely and horny as the poor minstrel frogs, on a journey from chaos to chaos. Nature is. The resurgence of the rabbits, followed by our fox, is simply a manifestation of the fox-rabbit cycle.

Nature is. It is not just the hidden and unknown fear, but the corruption and sickness within us. As we walk the sporadically lit line, it will take more than human abstention to restore or cure what is within or without.

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